Editor’s note: This opinion article was written by Ruth E. Jensen, President of Florida Agri-Women.
In this moment in time, due to the coronavirus pandemic, our nation is facing many challenges as we adhere to instructions of social distancing. Our leaders are working 24/7 to contain the spread and are developing American-made tests, vaccines and medicines in their efforts to eradicate this invisible enemy. While agriculture is listed as an essential critical business, there are issues unique to the fresh fruit and vegetable sector.
Florida Agri-Women, along with other members of American Agri-Women, sit in on the White House Critical Infrastructure Partners conference calls to hear from many of the White House Coronavirus Team updates (DHS, HHS, CDC, FEMA, USCBP to name a few). When they email updates, we make it a point to share with our members and others.
We have heard of stresses occurring in farm communities, particularly the fresh produce industry that typically caters to restaurants, hotels, cruises, catering events, conferences, and conventions. The question was posed about what is being done, if anything, to mitigate this situation so that fresh crops do not end up in garbage bins across Florida’s agricultural landscape.
To that end, Florida Agri-Women has communicated with the White House Critical Infrastructure Partners along with state, regional, and federal agricultural government leaders to find ways to assist our farmers with mitigation methods. We included in our message that some farms across the country are using creative alternatives such as, working with food banks, direct sales to consumers, working with some farmers markets that are open, and selling to USDA for school bus home delivery of breakfast and lunch to name a few. But more is needed. We also noted that many states have a coordinating “repository” where farmers coordinate through a coalition of sorts, some through their Department of Agriculture and others through their Farm Bureau, etc. and that FedEx, UPS, Lyft, and Uber have all stepped up to assist with deliveries. Here too, we need to be proactive and do whatever we can to assist farmers and ranchers. We need to ask ourselves, what can we do locally? Can we connect farmers to markets, to Community Supported Agriculture to possible buyers? Together, we can do this.
The Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried has reached out to USDA in an effort to partner up networks. Efforts also are underway to streamline the H-2A program coronavirus guidelines. There is a great deal of misinformation being perpetrated upon the American people unnecessarily causing panic, hysteria and hoarding in parts of our country. I can’t stress enough that for all questions regarding coronavirus, log on to www.coronavirus.gov or www.cdc.gov for the latest information.
I truly believe we are going to get through this and come out with many lessons learned. We ask that all American citizens, government, and related associations work together to protect our food supply by supporting the needs of the American farmers who put food on our table through all types of adversity. In the meantime, please be careful out there, volunteer your talents however best you can, and let’s all stay connected.